Does the Christocentric nature of much of evangelical theology negate the Trinity?

Discussion in '2003 Archive' started by Matt Black, Sep 9, 2003.

  1. Matt Black

    Matt Black
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2003
    Messages:
    9,141
    Likes Received:
    0
    OK, this question is phrased in slightly polemic terms, but basically what I am asking is to what extent our focus as evangelicals on Jesus runs the risk of downplaying our communion with and the role of the other Persons of the Trinity as God-as-Trinity, and to what extent does our emphasis on the need for a 'personal' relationship with a 'personal' God undermine the Trinitarian doctrine?

    For example, Ian Ramsey, former Bishop of Durham, maintained that talk of a 'personal God' was something that emerged just before, or at the very beginning of, the Enlightenment era, at the same time as movements such as Deism. He argues, if I remember (it's years since I read it) that talk of a personal God in this sense actually began as an attack on Trinitarianism! Certainly, he maintained, it had nothing to do with the Patristic use of terms such as 'prosopon', and the 'persons' of the Trinity.

    One of the defining things about the Modern Era - say 1600-1965 - has been a very particular sense of what 'personhood' means - and despite the fact that it is a very particular sense, this concept of personhood has been largely taken for granted. A self is an atomic, individualistic entity, defined before it enters into any relationship with anyone or anything else.

    If that's how you understand the self to be, then an idea of God which is so fundamentally relational as the Trinity is going to be its mortal enemy. You need a God who in some sense is a 'self' like you. A 'personal God'. A God who is, however much you inflate the idea, basically 'a bloke who happens to be God'. Because you need such a God as a mirror into which you can look and confirm your own sense of selfhood.

    And once you know yourself as a self, you can then enter into a 'personal relationship' with this God, who is a 'personal God'. The idea that you might exist in a matrix of already-established relationships with a Triune God and the human family just doesn't 'play' with people any more.

    The Trinitarian issue is an interesting one.
    Evangelicalism per se - whether in its conservative or charismatic forms - is very Christocentric. Often you get the impression from the emphasis (over-emphasis?) on penal substitutionary atonement that God the Father is the bad guy we all need 'saving' from. Sure, 'how much more shall we be saved from the wrath of God through him' saith the scripture ... but too often we're left with a view of the Father as a vicious tyrant with Jesus as the good guy.

    So, how do we (should we?) seek to balance Nicene Christianity with Christocentric evangelicalism, both theologically and, perhaps more importantly, devotionally?

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  2. Doubting Thomas

    Doubting Thomas
    Expand Collapse
    Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 22, 2003
    Messages:
    2,615
    Likes Received:
    6
    Interesting thoughts.

    Somehow I don't see the apostles and early evangelists running around and saying, "Let me show you can one can have a personal relationship with Jesus!"

    I do believe the Trinity is practically neglected by many evangelicals. Sure, we give lip service to the doctrine, but we don't dwell on the implications in regards to salvation. God is "Tri-Personal"--He is not a single individual (hypostasis) though He is One Being. I believe God calls us to participate in His Divine Life. We can't be members of the Trinity, but Trinitarian relationships (esp John 17) are the pattern of how the Church is to be united to God and to each other. The Church is to be One Body in communion with God (and the memebers with each other), and not a social contract of likeminded individuals. As it it says in 2 Peter 1:4 we are to be "partakers of the divine nature". So, yes, salvation is more than penal substitutionary atonement (as important as that is). It is participitation in the life of the Trinity which is eternal life.
     
  3. Pastor Larry

    Pastor Larry
    Expand Collapse
    <b>Moderator</b>
    Moderator

    Joined:
    May 4, 2001
    Messages:
    21,763
    Likes Received:
    0
    It doesn't. I see your concerns as non-existent, at least for the part of evangelicalism I am familiar with. God himself said that we know him through Jesus Christ. God said that teh illumination and regeneration of the Holy Spirit is what enables us to know Christ. God said that the Holy Spirit dwells in believers in Christ. In other words, the testimony of Scripture flies in teh face of this assertion you have made. To preach Christ is to preach the message of the Trinity. Apart from conscious saving faith in Christ, no one has a relationship with the Trinity. That is how God set it up.

    He is not some vindictive, angry God who must be appeased. That is a gross mischaracterization of God. He is a God of holiness and infinite perfections, who loved the world so as to give his Son for the world. The only way to make stand the characterization of God has angry and vindictive who must be appeased by a blood sacrifice is to separate God from Christ. Evangelical theology cannot do that and still remain evangelical.

    Evangelical theology is only evangelical as long as it holds to the evangel, the gospel. Once it becomes anything other than Christocentric, it is no longer evangelical.

    Thomas said he didn't see the apostles talking of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. How can you say that in light of hte book of Acts, along with much of the rest of the epistles?? The whole NT is about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, both how we have one and what it does to us.
     
  4. HankD

    HankD
    Expand Collapse
    Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 14, 2001
    Messages:
    15,120
    Likes Received:
    319
    For Baptists, no undermining at all.

    We enter this relationship being "born of the Spirit".

    Then we obey Christ ... "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".

    We enter the Church baptised (as believers with understanding) in the Name of the Trinity.

    HankD
     
  5. Matt Black

    Matt Black
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2003
    Messages:
    9,141
    Likes Received:
    0
    Pastor Larry, many thanks for your helpful reply. I agree that the route (the only route) into the Trinity is Jesus Christ and His Cross and Resurrection (Jn 14:6). What concerns e is to what extent this is actually a reality in the devotional lives of many evangelicals

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  6. Daniel Dunivan

    Daniel Dunivan
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2002
    Messages:
    374
    Likes Received:
    0
    Matt,

    It is interesting that in most contemporary philosophy or anthropology, the person cannot be defined without the community. Applying those principles to theology, Jesus cannot be defined as God without the rest of the Trinity, but the Trinity could not be defined (or even known) without Jesus. We must have a both/and approach.

    I agree that most pious evangelical talk about a "personal relationship" has lead to a depreciation in theological reflection (and devotional reflection) on what it means to for God to be a community and for me to participate in that community. I think no where more so that in ecclesiology, but the deficencies don't stop there.

    Grace and Peace, Danny [​IMG]
     
  7. Matt Black

    Matt Black
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2003
    Messages:
    9,141
    Likes Received:
    0
    Agreed, Danny. This is a chief concern of mine arising from observation of many evangelicals' public prayers in particular

    Yours in Christ

    Matt
     
  8. Daniel Dunivan

    Daniel Dunivan
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2002
    Messages:
    374
    Likes Received:
    0
    I am not a big fan of the penal substitution approach to soteriology for the same reasons. It makes clear that God is three, but the unity of the three seems to be compromised by some sort of multi-personality disorder. I think that the theory gets at the truth, but fails to ultimately define it. I personally think that we need several models to get at the salvific elements of the Jesus event, and most substituion or satisfaction theories fail to incorporate all that the NT seems to be expressing (note how little importance that the resurrection is given in these models--only an afterthought).

    I know that most persons on this board will disagree with my statments, and I would agree with much of the theology behind their thoughts; however, I am cautious about giving an obviously philosophically dependent system a place of immutability (I accept the infallability of scripture, not philosophy).

    Great topic!! These seem to be harder and harder to come by on this board. Notice how many topics are consumed with tribulation, rapture, yata, yata.

    Grace and Peace, Danny [​IMG]
     
  9. Matt Black

    Matt Black
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 25, 2003
    Messages:
    9,141
    Likes Received:
    0
    To continue this 'great topic' (many thanks, Danny :D ), has anyone read Communion with God by John Owen, one of the great early Puritans. I'm going through it at the moment and find it to be well-balanced with regard to our relationship with the Three Persons of the Godhead whilst still remaining thoroughly evangelical. It's very good devotionally too.

    To stir up further discussion, let me pose a supplemental 'problem' for you all to deal with: looking at the Old Testament, the Patriarchs had a relationship with God the Holy Trinity without conscious faith in Christ.

    John 14.6 says that no-one comes to the Father except through Jesus, but it doesn't say "except through a conscious faith in Jesus and a free intellectual assent to the truths of the Gospel". It doesn't rule out coming through Jesus without knowing it. Also the next verse says "If you knew me you would know the Father" - not quite ruling out people knowing the Father without knowing Jesus - or at any rate without knowing that they know Jesus, as one assumes that anyone who had faith in God before the incarnation could not have.

    For that matter, according to Scripture, Cyrus of Persia had a relationship with God (whether or not it was a saving one is not something we can know). See 2 Chronicles 36, or Isaiah chapters 44 & 45. God speaks to (not just through) Cyrus, and anoints Cyrus, even though Isaiah explicitly says Cyrus does not know God.


    quote:
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: "This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: " 'The LORD , the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you - may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.' "
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    quote:
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I am the LORD [...] who says of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, "Let it be rebuilt," and of the temple, "Let its foundations be laid." '

    This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: "I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me. I am the LORD , and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me,

    [...]

    I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the LORD Almighty.


    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Suggestions?

    Yours in Christ


    Matt
     
  10. Daniel Dunivan

    Daniel Dunivan
    Expand Collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2002
    Messages:
    374
    Likes Received:
    0
    Matt,

    Are you familar with Karl Rahner, a twentieth century Jesuit Catholic theologian, and his concept of "anonymous christians"? He too has some excellent things to say about Trinitarian theology. While I don't swallow it all, he has a very interesting approach to theological reflection. Much different than Owen.
     

Share This Page

Loading...